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TOADOCALYPSE NOW: Madagascar faces down amphibious assault

Cane toad's poisonous relo invades Indian Ocean island

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A group of scientists has urged the Madagascan government to take up arms against the Asian common toad - a poisonous relative of the infamous cane toad which has gained a foothold on the Indian Ocean island.

In a letter to Nature, Jonathan Kolby of Oz's James Cook University, together with 11 other researchers, warn that Madagascar is facing an "ecological disaster" if it doesn't act to curtail the incursion.

According to the BBC, the first of several sightings of the Asian common toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) came back in March. It's suspected that the creature probably launched an amphibious assault on the island via shipping containers from South East Asia.

The Asian common toad. Pic: Shutterstock

Toadocalypse Now: The Asian common toad. Pic: Shutterstock

Kolby said: "It's worrying because Madagascar has amazing endemic biodiversity - plants, animals and amphibians that are found nowhere else. And this one species has the propensity to damage that."

The Asian cane toad poses two threats: it's poisonous and it might spread the chytrid fungus. The latter menace (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) has already done serious damage to amphibian populations in Australia and Central and South America, and a few years back arrived in the UK.

It remains to be seen if Duttaphrynus melanostictus wreaks the same kind of havoc in Madagscar as the cane toad (Bufo marinus) has done Down Under.

Introduced into Northern Queensland from Hawaii in 1935 in an attempt to combat native cane beetles, the toad has since hopped 3,000km across the Lucky Country, swelling in numbers to over 200 million, and making short work of local snakes, lizards and other defenceless animals.

Kolby and colleagues insist swift action is required to prevent Madagascar suffering a similar toadocalypse. He concluded: "The question is, can we still eradicate them? Have we caught it soon enough that eradication could be a feasible option? Obviously we all hope the answer is yes." ®

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